January 2020 convoy group photo

New year, new warehouse

Luke reports on CamCRAG’s first convoy of 2020

January 2020 convoy group photoEven if the French CRS riot police presence was visibly less than the last time I was in Calais, at the height of the gilets jaunes protests, the fences had multiplied around the town have multiplied. Some things had changed: Collective Aid has taken over clothes donations in a new (warmer!) warehouse. Some things hadn’t changed: As the 26 CamCRAG volunteers descended on the Calais youth hostel for another weekend, we were met by the same concierge with impeccable English, before a trip to the Family Pub.

I have always been struck by the levels of organisation at the warehouse, but it was especially clear on this convoy. Spending my Saturday in the woodyard, tapping into my primal desire to swing an axe, I noticed both the long-term and short-term volunteers moving like clockwork; chopping, bagging, packing, and delivering wood to the approximately 1,000 refugees currently in the Calais area.

Jan2020 convoy - sorting clothes in the new warehouseConvening at lunch, it sounded like the Woodyard wasn’t an exception. Tales of garlic peeling sessions that left the hands smelling for days, nightmare tents and bright pink puffer jackets that had been donated provided us with enough laughs to fill the hour, but also gave us the feeling that we were really getting things done. A special mention has to go to ‘tent-king’ Tony who, travelling through the night, and on little to no sleep, was at his usual post, sorting and delivering tents to those who needed them most.

On Saturday night we enjoyed the traditional CamCRAG meal, this time celebrating the birthday of our fantastic convoy coordinator, Lee. Earlier Alex dragged yours truly on a run down the Calais beach in the pitch black: Not ideal when it’s barely above freezing and you’re wearing shorts.

But among the laughs and the music, there were stark reminders of why we were there. Running down that beach, I couldn’t help but notice how uninviting the water was, and how bleak and desolate the shore. Launching a dinghy into that sea was unimaginable, and yet people do it every day to escape the wretched conditions of northern France.

Seeing tent settlements on the side of the road, and police vans everywhere, will never stop being a shock to the system. We don’t know what the future will bring, but I do know that CamCRAG’s dedication and commitment remains just as strong as it ever was.